INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s health commissioner approved a one-year needle-exchange program Thursday for a rural county at the center of the state’s largest HIV outbreak, an epidemic that’s being driven by needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.
Dr. Jerome Adams’s approval for Scott County includes a public health emergency declaration that will allow it to operate a needle exchange through May 24, 2016. The southeastern county had a temporary needle exchange under an executive order signed by Governor Mike Pence that will expire Sunday.
The county, about 30 miles north of Louisville, Ky., is the first to receive state approval for a needle exchange under a new state law that provides for exchanges if a community proves it’s facing an HIV or hepatitis C epidemic fueled by intravenous drug use.
State epidemiologist Pam Pontones said Thursday that 160 people have tested positive for HIV — one in a preliminary test — since December. Most of the users injected a liquefied form of the painkiller Opana. Nearly all of those cases have been in Scott County, which typically has about five new HIV cases each year.
Adams testified Thursday before the US House’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the opioid abuse issues plaguing the nation require a multipronged approach. He said officials need to address issues such as homelessness, hunger, access to health insurance, and integration into society after incarceration, along with access to education and jobs.
‘‘If people don’t have hope, they will increasingly turn to and stay on drugs,’’ he said.